Digging Deeper – how human intelligence still holds the key to true insight

By Dan Gallagher, Research Director, Day One Strategy

At Day One we have been building a reputation for innovation, championing the use of technology in the healthcare insights space. But, human intelligence has always been at the heart of our approach, to interpret the findings and be creative and strategic in our thinking.

This piece focuses on the value of human intelligence via deep thinking and the art of meaningful conversation – something that AI will never surpass us at (although come back to me in 5 years on that one…).

We use qualitative research to find the ‘why’ and to bring customer voices to life, but it also has critical value in broader exploration, when you’re not sure what the question is, never mind the answer.

In a self-funded study, we spoke to consultant oncologists via recurring 2-hour deep dive interviews, to explore what makes them tick, to understand how they approach treatment, and to find out how pharmaceutical companies can truly engage with this vitally important specialty group.

When asked to describe the typical oncologist many of us in the industry, including myself, would have painted a highly rational, data driven and even God-like portrait. It turns out, we couldn’t be further from the reality. Oncologists’ deep understanding of mortality leads to them being driven solely by their patients’ desires, stripping away all ego and, at times, even scientific fact.

This mindset stems from learning how to cope with losing their patients, and ultimately how to cope with failure. As we may have hypothesised, initially experiencing the death of a patient can cause oncologists to step back, blocking out the emotions in order to do the job. But the longer our interviews went on and the deeper we probed, they offered up their ‘true’ feelings. We revealed an eventual shift and a sense of acceptance that occurs over time in these doctors, which perhaps makes them different to other medical specialties.

By experiencing the reality of cancer patients’ terminal illness and supporting them through this journey, oncologists learn to accept the finality of life and their lack of control. They embrace their roles as loyal servants to their patients – there to ease their suffering. Of course, they desire to cure or for long term remission, but ultimately their goal is to help their patients find meaning in their lives, rather than a life of burden or suffering.

Amongst hundreds of fascinating quotes from our interviews, one stands out that perfectly exemplifies this:

“I had a young woman, I thought she was totally treatable, but she consulted a psychic and she told me she did not want treatment, it was frustrating, but you have to accept it is their life and their choice, we are here to offer help, but it is so complex that you cannot force anyone.”

Ultimately, what matters to oncologists is what matters to their patients, they are acutely in tune with them and work with them to make decisions, including on treatments.

So what can our pharma clients, and the research industry learn from this? Three things come to mind:

  1. In the increasingly challenging and complex field of oncology, pharma can engage with oncologists on a human level, including with messaging around what this means for their patients
  2. Pharma can show empathy and understanding of what oncologists do and go through each day, by setting up forums to discuss cancer patients, mortality and also support them in managing this on an emotional level
  3. Going beyond this specific example, sometimes the most valuable and meaningful insight takes time to unearth. Let’s face it, would you let spill your deepest and most vulnerable thoughts and fears to a stranger you met 10 minutes ago?

Want to learn more about our paper, our expertise in oncology or even qual research in general? Then please get in touch – d.gallagher@dayonestrategy.com


Abigail Stuart